Guide to Outrigger Canoes

Outrigger Canoe : What is it?

Outrigger Canoes

Outrigger canoes are canoes that are fitted with lateral rigs called outriggers. The outriggers are secured to the hull on one or both sides and provide stability and balance to the boat. A series of spars called iako are laid across the gunwale, extending over the sides of the canoe, and ending with flotation devices called ama.

The concept behind outrigger canoes comes from the practice of lashing two single canoes together to increase their width and thus make them more stable. Outrigger canoes were first used in Southeast Asia to travel by sea, and for marine livelihoods such as fishing. Today, ourtrigger canoes are mostly used for sport racing.

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Types of Outrigger Canoes

Outrigger CanoesOutrigger Canoes

Kinds of Outrigger Canoes include the following:


Solo outriggers, also referred to as one-man canoes, are designed to accommodate one person. The seats are usually placed at the middle to maintain balance and keep the weight centered. They are smaller and shorter than other outrigger types. They range from 19 to 21 feet in length, although earlier designs were as long as 27 feet. Longer models usually have lower rockers for better stability on flat waters. Their weight varies greatly depending on material. Standard fiberglass models can weigh 17 to 20 kilograms, while those made from composite materials can be as light as 12.


Tandem or two-person outrigger canoes have two seats to accommodate two people. The seats are usually arranged one behind the other, with the more experienced paddler sitting closer to the bow. In some models, the steering can be changed from front to back. They are about 25 feet long and 15 feet wide. Most models have moderate rockers.


Six-person canoes are much longer than other types, ranging in length from 40 to 43 feet. They are mostly used for outrigger canoe racing, a popular team sport in Hawaii. They are usually arranged with a front seat, a back seat, and two side-by-side rows. The front seat is occupied by the stroke, who calls the shots and does the primary paddling. The paddlers in the next row are usually responsible for setting the rhythm and pace of the paddling.

The third and fourth seats are usually called the power seats, and are usually occupied by stronger paddlers to provide the strong paddling needed to propel the boat.
The ama is usually controlled and kept in balance from the last seat.


Surfing outriggers are about 22 feet long and have a capacity of two to four people. They are used for paddling along waves and rough waters, although they are rarely used in whitewater rapids. They usually have high rockers to allow paddling between waves and for better maneuverability.


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Choosing Outrigger Canoes (Buying tips)

Rocker: The rocker refers to the amount of curve on the underside of the hull. Choose an outrigger canoe with a high rocker for better control on rough waters, and a low rocker to help keep your balance in flat waters such as lakes. For canoeing in harsh weather, particularly during strong winds, a high rocker can prevent the canoe from getting blown around, as it sits deep in the water and will not sway as easily.

Weight: Choose a lightweight outrigger canoe that you can easily propel without too much effort. Look for lightweight materials that do not compromise stability and durability. Carbon fiber bodies usually perform well, but cost significantly more than other materials. Polyethylene, a type of rigid plastic, is a cheaper alternative.


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